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Earth's first expedition outside the solar system arrives at Proxima Centauri b and finds a mysterious object and the sole survivor of an extinct alien species.

Fred Kerns
Age Rating:

Professionals at Work

“One small step, eh?” Drew Lockwood took two larger steps down the ramp while staring at the nearby structures. The first connected with the edge of the ramp and the second missed it completely. He tumbled off and belly-flopped onto the rocky ground. ”Huhhfff!”

“And that would be why spacesuits are armored nowadays.” Kim Ramirez laughed as Cora hopped off the ramp and helped Drew back to his feet.

“You girls are lucky you’re robots.” Drew dusted his spacesuit off and was probably thankful that no one could see his face through his helmet visor. He’d just become the first human to set foot on Proxima Centauri b, but he’d done so via pratfall. “You don’t have to stuff yourself into suits like these. They make me clumsy.”

“A human brain in a robot body still needs oxygen.” Kim grinned and pointed a thumb at the breather pack strapped on over her long black duster. “Gotta admit I’m a little envious of Cora, though. Full AI. None of our weaknesses.”

“I’m sure you’ll find a weakness or two if you look hard enough. Besides, spacesuits used to be three times as bulky as they are now, so it could be worse.” Cora scanned the area with her sensor suite and detected no movement.

Not surprising, really, with the planet tidally locked to the nearby star and possessing a weak magnetic field. The atmosphere had eroded away long ago, assuming there ever was one to begin with. Too hot on one side and freezing on the other, only a narrow strip between the day and night sides could’ve supported life in the past, and maybe not even then

She scanned for energy sources next and found a faint trace about forty meters ahead and to the left. She set a waypoint and sent it to Kim and the navigation systems in everyone else’s suits. Her team had been sent to investigate the structures the Sagan had found on the surface, but those could wait.

“Good one, ’Drewfus.’” Boner nudged Drew’s shoulder. Brenda Nguyen, Vicki McWhirter, Consuela Nelson, and Timmy McBride laughed along with her. Drew gave her the finger.

“At least I’m not a woman named Boner.”

“Hah. You try being in the Air Force when your last name is Bonner. I was stuck with it pretty quickly.”

“Oh, it’s a sticky boner?” Cora deadpanned. “That’s even worse than I thought.”

Kim snort-laughed and shook her head. “Everybody else, watch your step. We don’t want your first visit to an alien planet to turn into ‘one giant plop.’”

Cora opened a channel on her internal comms. ”Sagan, this is Cora. We’ve detected a faint energy signature and are investigating.”

“Copy that,” Colonel Likhachyova replied. “Makes me wish I could be down there with you. An active power source suggests an alien presence, assuming it’s not naturally occurring.”

“I haven’t detected anything that looks like a natural radiation source around it. It’s basically a pinpoint.”

“Maybe you can see it for yourself once we’re sure there aren’t any booby traps or viruses or whatever,” Kim added.

“I’d love that. It’d be nice not to be stuck on the ship while visiting our first exoplanet.” Likhachyova laughed softly. “Check it out and keep me updated.”

“Will do, Ludmila.” Cora glanced over her shoulder at the rest of the team, grinned, and struck a dramatic pose. “Onward!”

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